Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grud-zel-nik? No ... Gress-uh-Lawn-ick

The Twins have signed second baseman Mark Grudzielanek to a minor-league contract.

He's roughly 93 years old (OK, 39), missed most of the second half last season with an injury and hasn't played a lick this year, but his lowest batting average in the last six years was .294 — and, perhaps most important, he isn't Alexi Casilla.

It's a minor league deal, but he didn't sign to play out the season in Rochester or New Britain.

His has been an interesting career — far better in his thirties than in his twenties, and if that sets off Bret Boone-type alarm bells, so be it. Good batting averages, not much power, and very few walks. One Gold Glove (2006), one All-Star team (1996).

He is, perhaps, most memorable for the pronunciation challenge he presented Harry Caray when he came up with the Expos. From Steve Stone's memoir of working with Caray:

Harry took one look at (his name), thought about spelling it backward, and said on the air, "Steve, it looks like it's already spelled backward, or maybe sideways."

After a few trips to the plate and several "Gruzzulniaks," Harry decided he would say, "All of his teammates refer to him as Mark G," and that's what Harry did from that point forward.

That fell into the category of Harry's reality.

Last season I was eager to see the Twins trade for Grudzielanek. Casilla had hurt his thumb, and the word was that he was likely to need season-ending surgery. If the Twins inquired about Grudzielanek then, they didn't like the Royals' asking price. The July 31 trade deadline passed; on Aug. 2, he went on the DL with a sprained ankle and hasn't played since.

I don't know what to expect of him now. A 11-month-plus layoff isn't calculated to help anybody, much less a middle infielder who just turned 39. Plus, from a purely selfish viewpoint, I don't cherish the challenge of working that name into a one-column headline. Or any headline.

On the other hand: Casilla is 1-for-9 in his latest round with the Twins and is hitting .175 in the bigs. He has a little more reason to look over his shoulder now — not that he should have been feeling secure anyway.

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